Bring on the LTD fight

May 30, 2012

I don’t get truly angry very often, but today was one of those days.  I’m not talking about getting a bit mad.  This isn’t about being pissed off or annoyed.  I’m talking about blood boiling, can’t stop shouting, punching things kind of angry.  But without the punching, since my joints can’t take it.  But if I could, I’d have punched some pillows, or maybe worse.

To be honest, I never expected it to be easy to get my long term disability (LTD) claim approved.  I assumed they would make it difficult.  I didn’t expect to encounter pure ineptitude, though.  It is infuriating!

I won’t go into the details.  They aren’t that interesting to an outsider and I’d just get mad if I typed them all out again.  Basically, the LTD insurance company uses a separate company to get my medical records.  I was told they use this company because they can follow up with the doctors’ offices more frequently than the LTD insurance agency can.  Too bad this isn’t true.  As it turns out, this company hasn’t been following up.  I spoke today to a doctor’s office who contacted this company on APRIL 30!, then was never called back.  When the company did receive records from another doctor, they misplaced them and only realized it when they turned up 3 weeks later!  Until the records appeared, these people were saying that they hadn’t received the records at all.  Like I said: inept.

In all, this company’s ineptitude has set my claim back at least 5 weeks.  That’s based on the setbacks that I know of.  My guess is that there are others that I haven’t discovered yet.  But I will.

I don’t plan on taking this lying down.  First, I contacted the LTD insurance company and made it clear that from now on, I will handle anything that horrible company would have done.  They are to have nothing at all to do with my claim from now on.

Second, as soon as my claim is approved (no point in ruffling feathers before that) I am going to call the CEO of that inept company, I am going to file complaints with the LTD insurance company, and I am going to report that company to every regulatory agency that I can think of.  How dare they make worse a time that is already so difficult for people?  And don’t get me started on the idea of such inept people handling so much confidential information!

It took a lot of heavy pacing, a lot of nasty words, a lot of venting to a friend, and a lot of effort, but I have finally managed to reduce my anger to mere… well, at least to a lower level of anger.  I am certainly not doing this for those idiots, though; I’m doing it for me.  I need to relax and take care of my body.  And then when the time comes, I will definitely hold them accountable.

All signs point to starting over

May 29, 2012

***Check out the Patients for a Moment blog carnival hosted by Chronic Babe***

Sometimes all signs point the same way.  This seems to be one of those times, so I better pay attention.

The symptoms started when I was 12.  I got the IBS diagnosis at 22 and the PCOS diagnosis at 25.  The “big one” was in between at 23: undifferentiated connective tissue disease.  This doesn’t mean a whole lot, but vague as it is, it’s more than I had before.  Hypothyroid came around age 26 and Hashimoto’s was around age 31.  There were others in there too, but they were smaller.  Then again, I thought most of these were pretty small, too.  After all, hypothyroid didn’t mean anything more than taking a pill every morning.  And according to my doctor, Hashimoto’s had the same treatment as hypothyroid.  PCOS also didn’t mean much until I was ready to have kids, which hasn’t happened yet.  And IBS is a nice name and all, but the only treatment is diet, and I was really left on my own to figure that out, aside from the somewhat-useful-in-a-very-limited-way pamphlet I got from the doctor.  No, the big one was definitely the connective tissue diagnosis.

I had symptoms for 11 years before I got any sort of autoimmune diagnosis, so I’d had plenty of time to come to terms with my symptoms and their permanence in my life.  I had a good handle on things.  So why did my world turn upside down again with that diagnosis?  Suddenly I was going through the 5 stages of grief all over again.  It was like I had to start over.

Last year my symptoms got much worse than they had been before and I finally had to leave my job.  That short absence has turned into a permanent one (at least from that job) and that pushed me to start researching my illnesses all over again.  I want to get back to work at some point.  I want to date.  I want to actually live my life!  So I found web sites and books and online groups.  I discovered some new things I hadn’t known about, and suddenly I was starting over with everything.

For the last month my mind has been whirling with the possibilities.  It has been overwhelming and frustrating, but it’s also provided some hope for the first time in many years.  I may be worse now than I was before, but it seems possible that I could improve, and feel better than I ever have in my adult life.  I’m scared to think that way, but it seems possible.

Every week WEGO Health hosts a tweetchat for health activists (Tuesdays 3pm EST, #HAChat – please join!)  Among other things, today we discussed the effects of having a diagnosis.  That really got me thinking about how I feel like I have a new diagnosis now.  In truth I have the same diagnoses as before, but I’ve just realized that Hashimoto’s and hypothyroid should be treated differently and that my PCOS and IBS could be treated differently too!  It’s as if I was just diagnosed.  I’m considering treatments that I’d never heard of until a few months ago.

As my wheels were still turning this afternoon, I found out about the Patients for a Moment blog carnival being hosted by ChronicBabe this week.  The topic?  “Starting fresh.”  Perfect, right?  Here’s what they want:

Is there something you’re doing that’s new, or different from how you’ve done it before? Are you starting something over that you previously didn’t succeed at doing? Are you giving a new doctor, medication, lifestyle behavior or workout regimen a shot? Fill us in on your experience!

Like I said, all the signs were pointing the same way.  So I gave in.  I took the time to really think about how strange it is to be going through all of this, especially so many years after what I had thought was my “definitive” diagnosis.  This just goes to prove that the learning never ends.  I am reading constantly, following blogs and tweetchats, trying my best to figure out which is the best approach to take.  I am talking to alternative practitioners to learn about their different approaches.  [I’ve been amazed at how willing they are to spend 1/2 hour on the phone telling me about what they do – the traditional doctors I contact don’t do this.]  I am on a gluten-free diet and looking into more dietary changes.  I am researching supplements and different medications.  I am adjusting my expectations.  I am asking for ideas from friends and family.  For the first time in many years, I can be proactive again.  In short, I am acting like a newly-diagnosed patient almost a decade after my first diagnosis and two decades after the onset of symptoms, and I love it. 

That kid thing

May 23, 2012

Just when I think I’ve accepted that I’ll never have kids, I get pulled back in.

Most of us are taught that life is supposed to go a certain way:

grow up –> get a job –> get married –> buy a house –> have children –> retire

Of course a lot of that is just social conditioning.  That is the path that some people will take, but it isn’t the path for many others, and that’s fine.  The important thing is that each person does what is best for them.  It’s important to first figure out what you really want, then find a way to make it happen.

I’ve thought a lot about what I really want, and I realized that I really do want children.  I don’t feel the need to own a house (though I still feel the social pressure for that) but I really do want to have kids.  I’ve watched many close friends have children in recent years, and as fun as it is to be an auntie, it makes me ache for motherhood.  [This picture is me as an auntie.]

The idea that I won’t have kids isn’t new.  Between my actual physical problems which would make pregnancy difficult (I’d have a lot of bed rest, I’m sure), the PCOS which would make conceiving challenging, the trouble I’d have caring for them, and the genes I could pass on, I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t have kids. Well, I mostly decided it.  I mean, I thought that would be the case.  I guess a small part of me always held out hope that things would change.

Watching my friends go through it, I try to focus on the bad parts.  Pregnancy does crazy things to a woman’s body.  Babies are all about sleepless nights and disgusting diapers.  They complicate your life.  They cost money.  Who needs it?  Life is easier without kids.  And a few years ago was one thing, but now I’m about to officially be in my mid-30s, so it’s not like I could get pregnant for much longer anyway.  I can’t imagine being able to adopt kids with my health problems, and again, how would I care for them?  No, I simply won’t have kids.  That’s all there is to it.  [Of course, it’s always possible that I’ll marry someone who has kids from a previous relationship, but that’s a bridge I’d cross when I came to it, and I’m definitely not counting on it.]

In the last few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of research about some treatment options for my health problems.  There’s no cure, of course, but for the first time I can imagine that things could actually improve a lot.  My energy could come back, the pain could decrease, the nausea could mostly go away.  If that happened, I’d want to date again, and maybe I wouldn’t be so worried about letting someone get close to me.  Maybe I’d finally meet someone to marry.  I also read about fixing PCOS.  Maybe I’d even be able to get pregnant easily.  If I really felt better, and was in a solid relationship, maybe I’d have kids….


I caught myself in that train of thought and it was as clear as ever: I still want kids.  I don’t want to want them.  I’d love to not want them.  Call it the biological clock, call it social conditioning, I don’t care what you call it.  I want kids.

It’s very unlikely that I’ll ever have children of my own.  I’d love to avoid kids altogether, to forget they exist, but of course life doesn’t work that way.  Health problems have robbed me of a lot of things that I’ve managed over the years to accept.  I never had that great feeling of invincibility that I’ve heard most teenagers have.  I had to work twice as hard in school because I couldn’t write.  I’ve lost relationships and avoided starting relationships.  I’ve lost jobs and missed out on great career opportunities.  And I won’t have children.  I hope that one day I really can accept that.

A little support goes a very long way

May 21, 2012

I have two kickass (if I do say so myself) blog posts in the works, but I’m going to hold off on those for now and instead ask you to take a look at yesterday’s post if you haven’t yet.  And if you’ve already read it, please write a comment.  I know that everyone can relate in one way or another – I’m guessing most of us have had trouble finding a doctor or other practitioner, or going against the “standard medical advice,” at some point.

I’ve gotten so many great comments in my email, through Twitter, and on this blog, and it’s helping so much.  Some people are offering practical advice for my specific situation and others are offering general support, and they are equally welcome.  So please take a look.  I’ll pick up with other topics again soon, so stay tuned.  Trust me, they really are kickass.

Tearing my hair out, aka No idea which treatment to try

May 20, 2012

Today I wrote this email to some of my friends and family because I feel confused, overwhelmed, and stuck.  As I was near the end, it occurred to me that you might have some useful advice.  So for anyone out there who has had to deal with difficult treatment decisions and/or has thyroid problems, please offer your advice.  Please write a comment, sent a tweet, or shoot off an email.  I would love any and all advice that you want to give!

This is the exact email I wrote.  The only change I made is my name at the bottom.  Please tell me what you think.  What would your next step be if you were in my position?


If you’re getting this email, it’s because I think you’re smart and I value your opinion.  You might not have an opinion to this, and that’s ok.  There’s definitely no one right answer.

Basically, I’m stuck with the health stuff.  I definitely need to try something new, and I can’t decide how to proceed.  Every time I make up my mind, I change it.  If you feel like reading this, set aside a few minutes.  I’ll lay it all out.  If not, that’s fine.  I definitely won’t hold it against you!
For the last three months I’ve been on a gluten-free diet.  This has definitely helped.  It has definitely not helped enough.  My guess is that being gluten-free is part of the solution.  I need to figure out the rest now.
I am making the assumption that I need to treat my thyroid.  This could be wrong, but out of everything, this is the part I’m most confident about and I feel good about proceeding this way.  Also, I don’t have any other ideas.  But no, really, this does make sense.  Hypothyroid and raised thyroid antibodies (which are related but not the same, and I have both) can cause fatigue (hello!).  There is a link between these and PCOS, IBS, acid reflux (which I may or may not have), and joint pain.  Then I’ve been reading about other random symptoms that I can relate to but that I’m not focusing on.  A good example is a “normal” body temp below 98 degrees.  I have this, and I never thought much of it, other than adjusting my math when calculating a “fever.”  Maybe it’s related to the hypothyroid or maybe not, but I’m not going to worry about it.  However, there’s a good chance there’s a link with the fatigue and GI problems, and a smaller chance with the joint pain.  By the way, hypothyroid means my thyroid is underactive.  Really, you don’t need to know anything about it for this.
For 8 years I have been on the most common drug to treat hypothyroid.  At first it seemed to work in terms of my energy level and blood tests.  Now my blood tests still look good, but I have been finding more and more people talking about having normal blood tests while still have hypothyroid symptoms.  There is no treatment for the raised thyroid antibodies other than surgically removing the thyroid and I am definitely not considering that.
Options for treating hypothyroid and raised thyroid antibodies:
— Try another drug of the type I’m on.  This treats the T4 hormone.  There are other drugs and maybe one of those will work.  This is the approach that almost every doctor will suggest.
— Try a drug to treat the T3 hormone.  There aren’t as many doctors who will do this, but they can be found.  I found one in Newton.
— Try a combination of T3 treatment with supplements or dietary changes.
— Try supplements and dietary changes – no drugs.
— Try dietary changes alone.
The easiest answer is to try the drugs, but the more I read, the less likely it seems that these will work.  Trying the drugs would give me a faster answer than diet, but I could be dealing with nasty side effects.  I think it makes sense to try dietary changes.  That’s why I did the gluten-free diet: I read a lot about gluten triggering thyroid antibodies.  Celiac is when gluten triggers intestinal antibodies, so this makes sense.  The fact that the diet has helped a little makes me think that I’m on the right track.  And the idea of not having daily nausea…. what a dream!  So even if the dietary changes don’t fix everything, they should at least fix the GI problems and that would make this all worthwhile.
Ok, so that’s why I want to pursue the “unconventional” approach of changing my diet to fix my thyroid instead of taking more pills.  And because it’s unconventional, I can’t simply ask my PCP, etc. for advice.
If you think this isn’t the right approach please speak up, but give me a reason why you think it’s wrong.
So assuming that I should make dietary changes, the problem is that I haven’t found any agreement on how to go forward.  Some people say to take all of the trigger foods out of your diet, then reintroduce them one at a time to see what happens.  Others say to eat normally but remove one trigger food at a time to see what happens (this seems like a terrible idea – if more than one food is a problem, you wouldn’t figure it out this way.)  The lists of trigger foods vary.  They all include gluten and dairy.  Most include soy.  Some include eggs.  Some include certain fruits.  Some include certain vegetables.  Some include corn and corn gluten.  Some include all grains.  Some include alcohol or caffeine or carbonated drinks.  There’s no one diet to try.  Clearly I can’t remove all of the trigger foods from all of the diets all at once – there’d be almost nothing left to eat!
There’s also something called leaky gut.  I think that a lot of these diets are aiming to repair leaky gut even when they don’t say it, but it’s hard to tell.  Leaky gut is starting to become more mainstream in western medicine, so I could potentially find a doctor who would help me with it, but there’s no test and no treatment other than diet.  The idea is that a food allergy/sensitivity causes permeability in the gut lining, and this causes certain things from the gut to link into the blood stream where they trigger an antibody response.  Removing the trigger foods will allow the gut to safely heal.  But then once you have this, it’s very possible to develop new food allergies, so it’s possible that today I need to remove gluten and soy, and in a few years I’d also need to remove dairy, and some time down the road I’d also have to remove watermelon.  But the idea is the same – find the trigger foods.
In theory I can try all of the diets one at a time, but in reality that is really hard and I honestly can’t imagine spending years trying to find the right diet, all the time knowing that the answer may not be diet-related after all.
And having said all of that, hopefully now you see why I feel stuck.  And if you don’t, then please explain the solution to me!  I think I should try a diet, but I don’t know how to determine which one.  I’m reading books, blogs, and web sites.  I am getting advice from commenters on my blog and from twitter friends.  Everyone says something different.  What criteria would you use to make a decision?
Thanks for any clarity you can provide!!  Any insight at all would be extremely helpful!  I’m definitely at the point where I need to try something new, and I could start it tomorrow, if only I knew what it was.
Ms. Rants

Enduring their sadness

May 19, 2012

I love that people care enough that they want me to get better.  I just wish they’d stop asking me how I’m doing.

Last fall I wrote about how difficult it is to reassure people, but yesterday brought it all crashing back harder than ever.  People ask how I am and they want so badly to hear that I’m doing better.  I’ve had to ask people to stop asking.  I know it’s hard for them, but it’s a lot harder for me.  Thankfully, they’ve all been respectful of that so far.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for everyone, especially my grandparents.  There are two reasons why it’s especially hard with my grandparents.  For one thing, their memories aren’t great these days, so they’ll ask me how I am, forgetting that we just had that same conversation the day before.  I’ve asked them to back off, and they did for a while, but then they forgot.  This is not their fault.  But it’s still difficult.

The other problem is that their health isn’t great.  I know that a big part of it is that they want to see me improve before they die, which could be soon.  It used to be that they wanted to see me married while they were still around.  Thankfully, they’ve adjusted their expectations of that (though I’m sure they’d still be thrilled to see me married, just like I’ll be devastated if my future spouse never meets them.)  The hard part of this is that they are being so selfless.  They want to help me and are frustrated that they can’t.  There is nothing they can do now, but they still want to know that I will be ok in the long run.  I want desperately to assure them that I’ll be fine, but I just can’t do that.  I’ve thought about faking a fiance.  I could probably manage that, actually.  But I can’t fake my health.  There is just no way I can pretend to be healthy.

So yesterday was another hard day.  Again, they asked how I was doing.  Again, they were disappointed that I’m not all better.  Again, they talked about me going back to work and again, I had to explain that I can’t do that right now.  Again, I avoided the obvious, that I may never improve.  I came home wanting to cry.  Just writing this I’m getting tears in my eyes, something that almost never happens.  It is so hard to see the people I love hurting.  I wish I could get better for them, but of course, if I knew of some miracle cure, I’d have done it already.

There’s really no choice.  I will keep plodding along with the various treatment options that I’m finding.  I will continue to research doctors and other medical practitioners, medications and diets and other treatments.  I hope that sooner or later something will work.  In the meantime, I will have to continue to tell people that I am not better.  And I will have to continue to endure their sadness.

Your sickness matters too

May 17, 2012

We all have problems.  That’s it.  Everyone has something difficult that they have to deal with.  It might be a health problem, it might be a relationship problem, it might be taking care of someone else.  We all have something.

If you have a severe chronic health condition, then the people in your life know at least a little bit about it.  No one really knows or understands what you go through, but they all know you have something, and they know a bit about the symptoms.  And because of that, some people get weird talking about their own health problems.  Have you ever heard “they’re nothing compared to yours”?  I bet you have.

A friend called today.  We hadn’t spoken in a while and we had a lot of catching up to do.  She didn’t know I had stopped working because of my health (yeah, it’s been a really long time) and she was sad to hear it.  Then we were talking about her job, and how she left it because of health problems.  She’d always been one of the healthiest people I knew, so I was shocked to hear about some of her troubling symptoms, all from the last several months.  On the bright side, they are probably stress-related, so she should be fine with some rest and relaxation (I hope!) Still, I wanted to hear all about it because as her friend I was (and still am) concerned.

That’s why was frustrating that every time we started to talk about her health, her response was that she didn’t want to talk about it because my health is so much worse.  I didn’t know how to make her understand.  Yes, I get annoyed when people complain about stupid things, when they act like a paper cut is the worst pain possible.  But I get upset from smaller things too.  I’m miserable when I have a bad cold.  I certainly feel the pain when I pull a muscle.  Yes, I can put these things in perspective emotionally, but it doesn’t make them less bad.  And I don’t begrudge anyone else their hardships.  I feel bad talking about my health with others who have worse conditions than I have.  My healthy friends feel bad talking to me about their temporary health issues.  But we have to remember that we all have problems and we all have to deal with them.  So I want my friend to tell me what’s going on with her.  It might not be as severe or as long-lasting as my issues, it may not have as big of an impact on her life as mine do on my life, but it is difficult for her and that makes it important to her and to me.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, my illness doesn’t make your illness irrelevant, and vice versa.  Let’s support each other, not hold each other back.

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